My family took a Disney cruise over Thanksgiving. Our boat was the Disney Magic. We flew into Orlando the day prior to leaving and stayed at the Hyatt at the airport. Staying at the airport hotel worked out perfect. We were able to gather our bags once off the plane and go right up to the hotel. Once we dropped off our bags we were able to eat and shop right in the restaurant/shopping area of the airport. We found the airport hotel to be very nice and had no complaints. We had actually brought a separate bag for this travel day separately and had our change of clothes in the separate bag for getting on the boat. This way we did not have to open up and search through all of our other bags for needed items. The next morning we were able to take our bags down to the ground floor of the airport and check in for our bus ride to the boat. The check in at the airport seemed a bit excessive. My wife waited in line for about 40 minutes. Disney seemed to be checking in some travelers completely and others just confirming they were on board and advising them to check in once at the boat. This might be for those return customers who get to check in at the airport and not stand in lines at the boat. We were not sure, but it took too long at the airport. Once through the first line we moved to the bus line still bags in hand. After waiting a few minutes a Disney employee told us we could take our bags out near the buses and leave them to be delivered to us on the boat. This seemed a little confusing, and I think Disney could have arranged this better. Finally we were shown to our bus and on our way to the boat. The ride takes about 40-50 minutes but they show a movie about the boat so the kids were entertained.
We arrived at the boat and got off the bus only to run into more lines for the security. Once through security we made our way upstairs and were directed to the check in lines. My wife went and stood in that line while the kids and I waited for her and watched the picture taking with Mickey. There seemed to be lots of people waiting around in lines and we did not have a clear understanding of where to go and what was needed. Disney could have done a better job of directing and having lines identified. It turned out the long line that we happened to jump in was actually for signing up for the kids club so that was good. We waited in that line for about 20 minutes. The line did not move fast but we were not going anywhere as no one could get on the boat until starting at noon. We made our way through the kids club line and received our pager and the kids their wrist bands. We would highly recommend enrolling kids in the clubs. You don't have to use them, but having them available makes it a whole lot easier.
We were given group #13 to get on the boat. They started calling group #1 at noon. So it does pay to get down to the airport check-in and/or port check in to get an earlier number, else you are sitting around waiting for your number to be called. We probably waited until after 1 pm until our number was called. It was not a bad wait. Once on the boat we headed to our room. Our plan was to drop off our carry on bags and go get lunch. You should definitely plan carry-on bags because you don't see your luggage until later in the day. So pack swimsuits, suntan lotion, books, sunglasses, etc. in your carry-on bag so you can head to the pool once you have finished lunch.
We got to our room which was a deluxe family statement with balcony. The room is not huge but you don't spend a lot of time in it. The room had a queen size bed, a couch that turned into a bed, a bed that dropped from the ceiling above the couch to form a bunk bed, and a bed the folded out of the wall. Our kids loved the beds. We did not have any complaints with the beds. Though the room does get a bit cramped since they have to move the furniture around when the beds are lowered and it makes it hard to get to the balcony. Recommendation: bring collapsible bags if you can or duffel bags. That way you can store them under the bed. Our five large ones had to sit at the end of the bed making walking a bit of a problem. The room had 2 bathrooms. One room had a sink and toilet in it while the other had the shower and another sink it it. This worked well for us with 5 people always getting ready. My wife commends Disney on the amount of shelf space in the bathrooms. She had plenty of space to lay out all her make-up items and bathroom items. The toilet sounds like you are on a jet airplane though but you get used to it. The TV in the room had been recently updated to a flat screen which was nice. They were playing movies like Ironman and Kung Fu Panda all day long. The kids loved it at night time. The balcony was nice. It had 2 chairs and a table on it. We found it nice to go out on it and watch us coming and going to and from ports. The closet has plenty of space and we found a ton of hangers to hand all our clothes up. The closet also had a safe in it which could keep wallets and all in it since you never need them at all. Once we dropped off our carry on bags and changed into swim suits we headed to lunch.
We read many reviews before going and were certain that we did not want to go to Topsiders for lunch. It is a buffet that is open during loading and most write ups have said it is terrible. So we headed to Parrot Cay as it was more recommended since it was more of a sit down buffet where the crew placed you at a table. Topsiders buffet is a 'find your own table' type of buffet. When we reached Parrot Cay they had just closed it to be full and were directing everyone to Topsiders. Most reviews of Topsiders stated the food was awesome and we should never eat there. So we were groaning all the way there. When we got there we found it to be crowded but not a huge line to go through. So we started through it and found the selection to be pretty good and nothing looking real terrible. We did find it a hard time to find a table. Finally we found a corner table where the wind was really bad. We froze while eating. But the food was very decent. We did not have a complaint at all. Now keep in mind my wife and I have eaten at the top rated restaurants in New York, Paris, and the US. So it is hard to top those, but we did not see all the problems previous reviewers stated they had. Maybe Disney has improved the Topsiders since their trip. The other restaurants during the cruise were excellent. We ate at Palo the first night without kids. This is well worth the extra $$. The Animator's palette and Lumiere were very nice. All the food we had was excellent, though my medium steak seemed well done. So I changed any future requests to medium rare. The desserts were excellent and the staff got to know our kids and were bringing my youngest a strawberry sundae everynight which had him grinning from ear to ear. We ate at the other 'walk-ups' during the cruise and found the pizza stand outstanding. My eldest, I think, set a record for 11 pieces in one day. He did not feel too well that night. The kids loved the all-u-can eat ice cream stand and all-u-can drink soda stand. These worked out well. Some cruise lines make you pay extra for this.
The kids clubs are great. Our kids loved them. We never saw them at night after the dinner and show. You have a pager that they can have you paged to come pick them up. But we never were paged. The kids club have tons of activities for all the kids. Our eldest would come in each night around 1 am while we were already asleep. He loved having the freedom. Even our 5 yr old did not want to leave the clubs each night.
The entertainment was excellent. We all loved the nightly shows after dinner. The juggler, magician, ventriloquist, and rest of the Disney shows were excellent. My wife and I went back to the bars later in the week to see some of the same performers for adult shows. The boat also has a movie theater in it which was showing Bolt while we were on which was cool. The theaters do fill up quick so you have to get there early.
The excursions they offered were varied and offered anyone a huge amount of things to go do and see whether you were active or not. We went to the dolphins in Cozumel and the kids thought it was the greatest thing EVER! It was quite expensive but well worth it. We then went to the butterfly farm and turtle farm in Grand Cayman. The butterfly farm was outstanding. This was originally a just 'do something' activity but it turned out to be absolutely great. We could not imagine the colors and sizes of the butterflies there. The kids also loved the turtle farm. They got to hold and pet them and get pictures taken with them.
The highlight of ports on the cruise was Disney's Castaway Cay. This is Disney's private island that no other cruise line stops at. Disney has this island running like a machine. Everything was great here and we had no problems finding chairs at the beach. We went snorkeling and parasailing here. Both were great. I think our youngest just like putting the gear on and off. One recommendation, we bought the snorkling-bikes-floats-etc early on the boat and ended up not using the bikes or floats. So we kind of saw it as a waste of money. You can rent all these once on the beach. While we were on the island the last day there was an occurrence that most Disney workers say they have almost never seen. The Disney Wonder sailed by while we were in port. The two ships blew their horns constantly back and fourth as the boats passed. The passengers on the Wonder were outside waving which made it really cool.
Overall this cruise has been rated as 'THE BEST FAMILY VACATION EVER' by our children. While it was very expensive we all feel it was worth it. We would definitely like to go back. We have no complaints to give people as reasons not to take a cruise on Disney. When compared with the other lines, Disney had much more to offer for kid activities, extras, etc. Most other lines either charged extra for late night kids activities or free soda, etc. My wife and I had so much 'free' time on this cruise because the kids were always at their clubs we did not feel we needed a trip to ourselves after taking this cruise. We loved this cruise and want to go back now. The cruise was run in typically Disney fashion catering to everyone of your desires.